How long does it take to write a novel? Flight of the Spumonis, coming out this spring, took 34 years. That includes 30 years of my original manuscript sitting in a box awaiting reworking. The Boy Walker took three years. But the process can go faster. Claudia H. Long, a lawyer in Lafayette, wrote The Duel for Consuelo (2014)—well, the first draft—in 30 days.

Claudia participates in National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org) each November. NaNoWriMo encourages authors to write without censoring or editing and complete a first draft of at least 50,000 words. Last month, Claudia finished the first draft of a follow-up novel (call it Marcela Unchained) set in 18th-century Mexico. It’s the third in a series that began with Josefina’s Sin (2011). Claudia used the same technique to write The Harlot’s Pen, a novel about prostitution in 1920s San Francisco.

Claudia has been authoring novels for 28 years. A writer of poetry at Harvard and an avid reader—two books a week even in college and law school—she started her first novel after the birth of her daughter Julia. Ten years ago, NaNoWriMo helped Claudia overcome an obstacle. “I enjoyed erotic fiction but was too shy to write it.” Then she heard about NaNoWriMo. She wrote the first draft of an erotic novel and spent a year revising it. Extasy Books published it under a pen name. She still gets royalties. “All my full-length books have been written for NaNoWriMo,” she says.

With the first draft done, Claudia estimates another nine months to complete Marcela Unchained. “What it takes to produce a baby.” Josefina’s Sin took two Novembers and 2-1/2 years total. Writing that first draft requires discipline, especially when you’re a busy attorney. Claudia makes her November work schedule as flexible as possible. Then she writes in the late afternoon and after dinner. “I have the benefit of being an extraordinarily fast typist. And I’m a real plot outliner. I’ve done the research and know what’s going to happen before I start writing.”

Claudia’s biggest challenge? Getting a concept to stick and germinate before making a commitment. I do a lot of walking to think about the book and bring the basics together. Waiting for November isn’t easy, but that’s what I do.”

Marcela Unchained will complete a trilogy—or possibly be followed by a fourth book. Why Mexico? Claudia was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in Mexico City then at eleven moved to New York. She found Mexico City a vibrant place as a child. Jewish, bilingual and bicultural, she did her honors thesis at Harvard on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a 17th-century Mexican nun and inspiring poet. “Women weren’t allowed to read and write then,” Claudia says. “Sor Juana was subversive and brilliant—perfect for an undergraduate.” She plays a key role in Josefina’s Sin.

Have a novel inside you? Take a tip from Claudia Long. Start writing notes on the characters and plot. As for me, I’m working on a short-story collection for publication in 2016. Right after, I’ll start a new novel already outlined. I won’t wait until November. I don’t have another 34 years.

Check up on Claudia at her Amazon author’s page.

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  1. jan on December 5, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    Amazing! Claudia has a lot more self-discipline that I can muster. I’ve read Duel for Consuelo – a lovely book which doesn’t read as though it was written in a hurry at all. Best of luck with Flight of the Spumonis, David. Love the title!

  2. Carolyn Perlstein on December 5, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    Writing is a lot of work, planning and plotting. Good luck to both of you. You, of course, are my favorite writer.

  3. Mary Rowen on December 5, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    Great article, and Claudia is a terrific writer. I agree that Flight of the Spumonis is a wonderful title and I wish you great luck with it.

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